/ Home & Energy

Complain for change – dealing with a rental nightmare

A house made of pounds

Here in the UK we are a nation of renters, with the private rented sector accounting for 4.7m households. There are a lot of advantages to renting, but what happens when you’re stuck with a nightmare landlord?

I know I wouldn’t have been able to move out of home without the option of renting, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a run of good landlords. One even replaced our vacuum cleaner with one especially designed to be anti-allergy after I developed a particularly horrible reaction to dust.

But chatting to a colleague at Which?, I was amazed to hear some of her stories of landlords that showed that renting can be more of a gamble than I previously thought.

Among the renting tales she regaled me with was a landlord who held back £1000 of a £1500 deposit, citing £250 for cleaning the oven, nearly £300 for cleaning the windows, and almost £250 for laundering the curtains.

I also heard a story of a landlord charging someone £100 for clearing leaves from the garden (despite it being autumn) and tidying up the outside space. This was in spite of him forking out a fair amount to improve the garden with plants, flowers and a completely new bamboo fence.

Dealing with dodgy landlords

But what can you do if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of a landlord nabbing more than you believe they should from your deposit? Or if the landlord has failed to fix something that is their responsibility, such as a major structural repair? How can you complain?

If you want to complain about your landlord, there are a couple of options that you can go for, including trade bodies and accreditation schemes. Landlords who are members of trade bodies such as the National Landlords Association and the Residential Landlords Association must comply by their codes of practice.

Don’t despair for your deposit

For disputes with your landlord over the return of your deposit, the rules differ depending on when you paid it. If you paid your deposit after 6 April 2007, the landlord should have put it in a tenancy deposit protection scheme and you can use our template letter to claim for the money back. If you paid your deposit before 6 April 2007, you can still write to your landlord but use this template letter.

So far, my experiences with landlords have been positive, but I’ve learned that rentals can go wrong. Have you ever had a rental nightmare? Did you know who to complain to, and if you did, what was the outcome?


I thought the proportion of households in private rented accommodation was still only around 20-25 per cent, far less than in most of the twentieth century. Following the massive sell-off of local authority housing under the right-to-buy schemes very few areas have more than 15-20 per cent of households living in property rented from their local council and the pproportion continues to diminish. In areas where the local authority has transferred its stock to housing associations or other social landlords the figures are broadly similar; these organisations are still able to build new dwellings so any RTB sales are sometimes offset by new lets. So the UK is hardly “a nation of renters”, certainly not in comparison with many other European cities where apartments are more common than here and blocks [and entire estates] are owned by insurance companies and other financial institutions.

In the UK, the private rented sector is still predominantly small-scale, often operated as an amateur sideline without managing agents or any particlar expertise, and dependent on the personal characteristics of the landlord and tenant relationship. Landlords fear rotten tenants and tenants fear rotten landlords. Tenure remains unstable and getting property problems fixed in a decent, responsible and timely manner seems to be very haphazard. Property investment should be a long-term business but becaue, in general, nett revenue has not risen in line with predictions made at the time of investment and capital appreciation has not occurred a large element of short-term-ism has affected the market and, in order to balance their books, many landlords feel their only recourse is to take it out on the tenants by deferring maintenance, overcharging for repairs and rectifications, and generally economising. In some major cities there is also an element of exploitation which is reprehensible.

The figure surprised me too, John. I wonder if the figure refers to London or thereabouts, which seems to be the focus of many of our discussions. I suppose the large number of students living in rented accommodation could be a significant factor.

The UK General Household Survey states “The proportion of households renting privately fell by almost two thirds between 1971 (20%) and 1991 (7%), then remained between 9% and 11% until 2008. The proportion of households renting privately has increased again over the past few years and was 15 % in 2011 “. I make that something short of 3.5m households but believe that figures might suffer a confusion over whether ground rent in long leases should be counted..

Whatever the figure, the increase means that a number of new landlords will have come into the business in recent years and there is a need increased regulation to maintain standards.

This involves two things.

First registration of all landlords.

This could be dealt with by including an additional question on the form all householders have to complete for electoral registration asking if anyone living in the property pays rent and, if so, to whom. Rent receivers could be notified and informed that they had to register managers and owner’s details using an online input form.

Secondly replace the fragmented current partial regulation system (eg it is a crime for the magistrates court not to supply a rent-book but an eviction can only take place under an order from the county court. rent deposit disputes are dealt with otherwise) with a comprehensive protocol enforced by organisations one of which anyone who collects rent has to belong to.

Let’s not talk about hard times and the cost of this. Done sensibly it will save money. Probably make it for the Government when tax is claimed on all rents.

Anon the mouse says:
2 April 2013

Don’t expect the Deposit Protection schemes to be any good if there is a dispute. Here’s my tale of woe over £790 deposit…

They were unable to do anything with the dispute between me, the landlord and the agent. Each claimed a different amount was in dispute, the agent kept increasing it everytime I disagreed with them., each wanted to resolve it a different way (Landlord – absolute silence, agent – ignoring emails/letters, me – trying to arrange a face to face due to being ignored completely).
The deposit scheme didn’t have a clue what to do and just put their heads in the sand.

The agent tried to go down the single claim route (by claiming that I was unreachable for 28 days), they had ignored all communication for a month and said it was me ignoring them. I contacted the deposit scheme and had the entire deposit account suspended as the agent was getting rather desperate to get the deposit by any means necessary. The agent continued down the route of ignorance and the landlord down the route of silence.

I gained the landlords address via the land registry (worth the money), and the agents head office by google. Then turned up at each to try and resolve the problems. The landlord was disgusted that a former tenant had her address, and really disgusted that I handed over a 7 day notice of intention to file in small claims court. The agent never ignored my emails again, as I had proved that I was quite happy to travel the 2 hours to their head office to resolve issues infront of potential tenants and landlords.

A meeting was hastily arranged between us all via the agent. The meeting was tense, the agents incompetence was pointed out directly to the landlord (the agent had no response), the landlords dodgy maintenance and safety (double sided tape instead of screws for holding up smoke alarms) was highlighted to the agent, I had completed court papers that were just waiting for the end of the meeting to take down if we didn’t get an agreement… which I offered to do as I don’t pay fees and we could let a judge decide.
And in the end we each came away feeling like the others had the better deal (so I consider it a win for all of us). That’s not to say there weren’t issues with then getting the deposit released from the Deposit scheme, where they lied to both the Agent and myself over not receiving communication from the other one. It took the agent and myself stating they would be dragged into court action that got it resolved in the end.

During that time the Deposit Protection Scheme did nothing to try and stop the tension, and always seemed willing to side with whoever they were talking to (made a call with the agent and myself and they panicked when they realised we were both listening to them).

Total time was about 8 months from asking for the deposit to getting it resolved. And I learnt the only way to get anywhere is threaten court, turn up at the agents Head Office and landlords house, and get whichever deposit scheme your in to LOCK the account (the phrase is “I refuse to use the ADS service”) until a court order or joint agreement is agreed. It stops the other parties from using underhanded means to try and get the deposit.

Sophie Gilbert says:
3 April 2013

Like John H says, first registration of all landlords, although up here in Scotland it’s compulsory as I understand. Second, minimum regulations required and especially enforced.

Next, convo re bad tennants please. Landlords aren’t the only ones who can be bad, and I’m NOT talking about tennants who can’t make the rent because they have fallen on hard times.

@RavensYard says:
10 April 2013

Well, we complained, got bullied and presented with bills for making it up.
EHO issued notice, agent told us “phoned him, won’t be hearing about that anymore”
We left the property (legally) , they chased us for £3k
Tried to put it to court and “failed to prove” in the face of substantial evidence, admission and confirmation we looked after the property!
They were excused doctoring their evidence and we await notice of how much their solicitors can bill us.

There is no hope for tenants, accept the loss or they will just take more from you.

Feel free to ask for legal aid if you think you’ll get it. We were told it won’t be granted for landlord & tenant issues.
If you don’t have £15k to get it into court and a further £15k+ to cover chances of not being successful forget it.
If you do have that money, best to keep hold of it and hope they stop at your deposit.